Well, I still haven’t come across that city during my travels, but I found one that isn’t terribly far off.
I hadn’t paid much attention to Asheville, NC, before a few weeks ago, but after a weekend there for the Beer Bloggers & Writers Conference, color me impressed. Small compared to any town I’ve traveled to for a conference with 83,000 residents, the beer scene is top-notch and the downtown action compared with any of the big dogs—even coming from Austin’s fabled Sixth Street.
It is easy to see why Asheville has been named Beer City USA. With 21 breweries (per Asheville’s tourism site, it very well might be more, frankly) putting it as the most breweries per capita, there seems to be a brewery every other block of every strip—from the small microbreweries to big dogs New Belgium building a new facility, Oskar Blues opening a second in nearby Brevard, and Sierra Nevada opening the Basilica of Beer in the last year.
In all honesty, my uninformed opinion on North Carolina wasn’t too great. What’s there? Duke, UNC for colleges. Some research stuff happening in the Triangle, but not actually sure what. Seeing a bit more of the personality in Raleigh for a day, then Asheville for the weekend, I appreciate North Carolina quite a bit more.
Coming from Texas, I’m used to flat land, unless I head over to El Paso, with their desert mountains. I love it—I enjoy the wide-open feeling I get in the middle of the Texas countryside. I’ve been west to the Rockies and the ranges further out. Driving through the Appalachians for the first time was surprisingly enjoyable with the lush forests and rolling hills. My experience of Asheville started with a long and beautiful bus ride from Raleigh to the conference venue at the Four Points Sheraton.
After a few sessions of the conference at the hotel, we visited the Oskar Blues brewery. While on a map, it may look like this place is relatively urban, it fronts a greenbelt that makes it feel in the middle of the country. While they have an indoor taproom on the second floor that overlooks operations, the outdoor space is too good to simply walk past.
Oskar Blues threw a nice party before, alas, it was time to board the bus to Sierra Nevada. I already wrote about this stop over on 365Brew.
By itself, Sierra Nevada is worth a visit even if the rest of the area had little to note. Once coupled with the rest of the beer culture, it is a no brainer to visit.
Riding a brewcycle through downtown Asheville on a Saturday evening was surprisingly a happening place. My home town, Wichita Falls, the downtown is dead when the courthouse isn’t open (though if I had limitless funds, I’d go to town trying to change that). When I last lived there, the biggest social activities mainly included walking around a mall or driving down a strip of road since there wasn’t much else to do. I expected any city of similar or smaller size (<100,000 people) would be the same.
It was great to see people everywhere in downtown Asheville. Passing the Thirsty Monk and the other nightlife spots around downtown, they all were solidly busy.
WordCamp Asheville was the following weekend after I was there. If I was smart and could have figured out logistics, I should have had the family come along, stay the week, and work both conferences.
Saturday evening, we were treated to a social hosted by a great number of members of the Asheville Brewers Alliance. The evening was fantastic while my only regret was not having the chance to sample more of the local beers being poured.
I’ve been looking for somewhere to take the family when the girls are a bit older to visit that would get us away from a bigger city while still having plenty of things to do, good food to eat, and wonder beers to drink. Asheville inserted itself right onto the shortlist.
Unless otherwise noted, photocredit: ExploreAsheville.com.